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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press A crowd jams Independence Avenue during the Women's March on Washington in January.

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

Busy year for protests could be costly for DC

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Major protests in Washington that have greeted President Donald Trump's first year in office are set to return in force, continuing an already expensive year for city officials who work to keep people safe during mass gatherings.

With polls showing Trump facing unusually strong disapproval of his agenda in the first 100 days of a presidency, organizers are promising spring rallies for mostly liberal causes including science, climate change, immigrants' rights, gay rights and arts funding. Last weekend, demonstrators called on Trump to release his tax returns.

District of Columbia officials are accustomed to accommodating First Amendment demonstrations. But there's a real chance the city will burn through the money it gets every year from Congress to cover police overtime and other costs.

“It's the nation's capital. It's where people come to voice their grievances with the government,” Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said. “We welcome that.”

The bean-counting, handled by the city's homeland security department, is the tough part. Congress sets aside money every year to reimburse the city for the cost of First Amendment activities. That number fluctuates yearly but is usually around $15 million, said Christopher Geldart, the city's former homeland security director. The biggest cost is police overtime.

For the current fiscal year, Congress has set aside $14.9 million to reimburse the city, and $3.8 million of that had already been spent by Jan. 1. The city is also still seeking reimbursement for what it spent on the inauguration. While Congress allocated $19.9 million, the city spent more than $30 million.